Now that we’re a month into the season, I wanted to talk about a few players who have been turning in impressive performances lately with the Jays’ minor league affiliates. This will hopefully become a weekly feature, in the vein of Baseball America’s Prospect Hot Sheet, highlighting a rotating cast of guys who have been hot down on the farm and discussing what it means for their seasons and their futures. If people enjoy it, it’ll probably start popping up Tuesday mornings after the Monday MiLB off-day.
All stats are current through Sunday’s games.
Rafael Sanchez, RHP, Dunedin
Sanchez signed with the Jays last April for a bonus of $350,000 after being allowed to leave Cuba. After spending last season in the DSL and at the team complex in Florida, there wasn’t much info on the 23 year old prior to this season. He made Matt’s pref list in our top 40 prospects on the strength of some interesting pitch data, but it wasn’t until he was assigned to A ball this year that it was possible to learn much more than that.
So far this season, Sanchez has cruised through 4 starts, throwing 23.2 innings and striking out 31 while walking just 2, posting a sparkling 1.14 ERA. He’s generated a swinging strike on 17.7% of his pitches, 9th best of 151 pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings in the minors so far this season. Of course, a 23 year old with significant experience playing against men in the Serie Nacional should dominate the 20 year olds fresh out of complex ball who populate the Florida State League, so those numbers can’t be taken at face value. Still, they’re pretty strong, and the stuff seems to back them up.
During his April 27th start against the Pirates’ Bradenten Marauders affiliate, he sat 91-93 and touched 95 with his fastball, a four seamer that has some rise but is otherwise a bit straight. His breaking ball was a slow vertical breaking slider that the pitch tracker sometimes called a curveball, which came in around 83 with an average spin of about 2,650rpm. That’s an impressive number, and would have been in the 91st percentile among major leaguers who threw at least 100 sliders in 2022. His third offering was a firm changeup (again, the tracker sometimes called it a cutter but I’m pretty sure it’s the same pitch) at 86, with plus vertical drop. That’s three pitches that, just by velocity and movement traits, profile as roughly MLB average and potentially a bit better. Based on his walk total, he has some idea where it’s going as well.
It’ll be interesting to see where the rest of Sanchez’s season goes. First, whether he can maintain close to this level of performance, and second, given his age and performance whether the Jays try to fast track him up the system a bit.
Spencer Horwitz, LHB 1B/DH
Horwitz (pictured above while playing for Israel in this spring’s World Baseball Classic) is off to a great start in his second attempt at AAA. Through 97 PA, he’s batted .299/.443/.442, with one home run and eight doubles. The .393 BABIP probably isn’t sustainable, but the below average 20% strikeout rate and sterling 19% walk rate are pretty much in keeping with what he’s done since he was drafted.
An odd fit as a first baseman or fringy left fielder with slightly below average raw power, if Horwitz is going to have a major league role he’ll have to get there on the strength of good quality contact and control of the strike zone. He’s doing that so far, justifying the team’s arguably surprising decision to add him to the 40 man roster this past winter.
What makes his position especially interesting is the black hole that the lefty bench bat/ part time DH position has been for the Jays so far. Cavan Biggio has looked lost at the plate, posting a line 76% below league average in his first 53 PAs this season, while Brandon Belt has been only marginally better. Neither is necessarily a part of the long term plan, with Belt set to return to free agency this winter and Biggio an arbitration eligible player who’s on his third consecutive year of scuffling at the plate. That could open the door for Horwitz sooner than later if he keeps raking and one or both of his competitors fails to significantly turn it around.
Damiano Palmegiani, RHB 3B
The Venezuelan-Canadian Palmegiani was number 22 on our preseason top 40, after combining power, some plate discipline and acceptable strikeout rates. The question was whether the then 22 year old could keep it up as he faced more age appropriate competition.
Opening the 2023 season with AA New Hampshire, the answer has so far been a clear yes. He’s hitting .276/.462/.414 through 78 PA, with an amazing 22% walk rate against a 24% strikeout rate. The only thing that hasn’t arrived yet is the power, with just two home runs so far, but that’s the one part of Palmegiani’s offensive game that has never been in question.
It’s a strong start for the 2021 14th round pick, and given his age and performance the team seems to be comfortable fast tracking him, which could have him in the mix for a potential call up by next season.